When President Trump is faced with genuine accountability, he knows just what to do: delay and delay and delay. He might not be able to stave off the prying eyes of Congress, the courts or the public forever, but he might do it long enough to get reelected.
A week ago, the president sued his own accounting firm in an attempt to get it not to comply with a congressional subpoena for his financial records. And now he has filed yet another joke of a lawsuit:
President Trump and his family, as well as the Trump Organization, filed suit against one of their lenders and one of their banks late Monday, seeking to stop the financial firms from complying with subpoenas from congressional committees.
The lawsuit against Deutsche Bank, which has loaned Trump more than $360 million in recent years, and Capital One are designed to prevent the two institutions from providing records to the House Intelligence and Financial Services committees. The panels are led by Reps. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), respectively.
The filing, submitted late Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, claims that the subpoenas were issued to “harass” the president — “to rummage through every aspect of his personal finances, his businesses, and the private information of the President and his family, and to ferret about for any material that might be used to cause him political damage.”
“No grounds exist to establish any purpose other than a political one,” the lawsuit asserts.
The only problem with that argument is that as a legal matter it’s utterly irrelevant. His lawyers’ argument seems written not to convince a judge but to provide talking points to Fox News, where all of Trump’s advocates can cry that the whole thing is a fishing expedition, nothing but Democrats searching for something they can nail the president on. But even if that were true, as a legal question question it would make no difference.
That's because legal experts are all but unanimous in the conclusion that claiming a congressional subpoena doesn't have a good enough reason behind it is an argument with approximately zero legal weight.
“What the courts have made clear repeatedly is that congressional oversight power is incredibly broad,” Brianne Gorod of the Constitutional Accountability Center told me last week after Trump sued his accounting firm. “I’m not aware of any case law that suggests that Congress has to supply specific, granular justifications” for the subpoenas it issues. Here’s more from The Post’s report Tuesday:
“This isn’t a close legal question,” said David Alan Sklansky, a professor at Stanford Law School. “I’m quite confident there has never been a situation where a congressional subpoena has been quashed without a finding that it violates a constitutional right.”
The claim that there is no legitimate need for the subpoena, or that it is politically motivated, is a “frivolous argument, even if it’s true,” he said. “That is not a basis for quashing a subpoena.”
Nor is the claim that the inquest violates the privacy of the president or his family members, the law professor said.
“That’s how subpoena power works — it’s about getting information that people would like to be kept private," he said.
The reason Congress is looking at Trump’s relationship with Deutsche Bank is that it is particularly critical to the question of whether he has committed any financial fraud. In the early 2000s, after he declared bankruptcy multiple times and earned a reputation as a liar and a grifter, every major bank refused to lend money to him — except Deutsche Bank.
As reporting revealed last month, the bank continued to lend him money even though they knew he was lying to them about his assets. It’s a bizarre and mysterious tale, one that the records might help shed light on.
And there appears to be a very specific potential crime the House is investigating: money laundering. The New York Times reports that "people with knowledge of the investigation said it related to possible money laundering by people in Russia and Eastern Europe.”
This makes sense, given what we know about both Trump and Deutsche Bank.
In 2017, the bank was fined $630 million by American and British authorities over a scheme that allowed Russians to launder $10 billion in assets through the bank. Last year, German authorities raided the bank in their own money-laundering probe.
As for Trump, his properties have long been a favored vehicle for Russian oligarchs and mobsters looking for ways to move money out of Russia. In 2018, McClatchy reported that "buyers connected to Russia or former Soviet republics made 86 all-cash sales — totaling nearly $109 million — at 10 Trump-branded properties in South Florida and New York City. … Many of them made purchases using shell companies designed to obscure their identities.”
Now maybe all that was innocent, at least from Trump’s end. And maybe Deutsche Bank’s money-laundering activities have no connection to Trump. And maybe when congressional investigators see Trump’s records, they’ll find nothing problematic or suspicious in them.
But let’s be honest: Is there anyone, no matter what party they belong to, who doesn’t think there are scandalous things in Trump’s financial records? After the lengths he has gone to in order to keep his tax returns secret, after his long history of cons such as Trump University (for which he was forced to pay $25 million in restitution to his victims), after the revelation that his “foundation” was essentially nothing but a scam, think of what it takes to imagine that the records will show all of Trump’s transactions were aboveboard.
Even if you could convince yourself that might be true, Trump is acting as though he has something — perhaps many things — to hide. Trump is constantly bragging about his wealth, eager for everyone to know how successful, shrewd and rich he supposedly is. If his financial records demonstrated that, he’d be more than happy to let everyone see them. So either he’s far less wealthy than he says and having that revealed would be an embarrassment, or the records will reveal actions that are unethical or worse. Or both.
It’s pretty clear what Trump’s strategy is now: file one lawsuit after another, refuse to comply with subpoenas, and drag it all out as long as possible — at least until next November, when he might be reelected. It’s just about the only option he has left.